One Red Flower

survival, alcoholism, mental illness, boundaries, life-redesign, mid-life awakening.

One Red Flower

The heat of the summer reminds me of him. He would always appear as the temperatures warmed, and by the time the leaves began to change, he was gone.

I was around 11 years old when he gave up on finding a decent job at one of the many local universities in tobacco country; the triangle area that encompasses Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. He said God had led him to Dallas, Texas. It meant seeing him sporadically, mostly at Christmas and on Summer vacations. I jumped at the chance to be included in his adventure, and we hopped into his 79’ blue Buick with no air conditioner and began our journey across the country. He bragged about the heat being over 100 degrees , but all I knew was my legs, clad in my cut-off levi shorts, were completely stuck to the old blue vinyl of the bench seats. I took photos with my new One-Step Polaroid camera of the Great Smokey mountains as we passed through Tennessee, and marveled at all of the signs warning of the possibility of falling rocks. My dad, the music lover, told me all about Buddy Holy and Elvis Presley as we listened to Blue Suede Shoes and drove through Memphis, windows down, Pal Mal smoke softly lifting up and out through the window and into the hazy, blue sky. Dallas brought us country music as the landscape changed to flat, and men in starched Wrangler jeans and cowboy hats dominated. It also brought me Taco Bueno, and dad talked to me about Mexico as I ate this sloppy thing called a burrito, swallowing it down with a Dr. Pepper. The yellow and the blues faded into golden orange. He always left us in the Fall.

We went to visit his grave today. Me, my husband, and my 10 year old daughter. He didn’t want to be buried in Durham, North Carolina. He fought too hard to get out of there. Hell, he didn’t want to be buried at all. He wanted to be cremated and travel with us wherever we went. His wedding gift to me was a brand-new set of luggage and a coffee table book of London. We passed by an old apartment complex in Durham on the way home, and an odd feeling came over me as I looked ate the large, pre war wrought iron windows, that I had been there before. I was hit with a sudden rush of memory. One summer day years ago, my brother and I were in the living room of those old apartments with its hardwood floors and massive windows that let the sun shine in like a glowing orb, reflecting off of the shiny floors and white walls. The big TV sitting on a tray, the kind we called “TV trays”, because we would pull them up to the sofa and eat dinner on them. Danny and I were fighting over the channels like two dogs fighting over a tennis ball. The next thing I knew, dad was storming through the room, words coming from his mouth in a series that I couldn’t even comprehend. He was wearing nothing but a pair of white boxer shorts, the TV in his arms, rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum foil smashed to the floor. I don’t remember anything after that, but its no wonder why I have anxiety today.

Returning to the present, I glance into the back seat at my precious child, and try to imagine what she would do if she saw her own dad pulI off such a dramatic feat. I can’t. I left a red flower on his grave. The fake one I bought at the Charlotte IKEA and still had in my car. It was the only one there. My dad. The dying grass, and one red flower.

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Reflections on a life re-imagined

 

Again, the season is changing.  Again, it’s Fall.   Every October, I would get this sweet anticipation for the shorter days, the vivid colors, and the cooler temperatures.  Every year I would pull our Halloween decorations out of the attic, from the big orange and black bin we bought at Target.   I would relive every Halloween I have had since Savannah was born, and the excitement I felt as we purchased each decoration.  I pull out the skeleton in his cage, and remember the year in preschool at Hudson Memorial, when she took it for show and tell.  This year, she yells at me to leave her alone, She is reading. .  The past two years in Raleigh, she didn’t have any desire to put them on display.   Yet another indication among many that it was time to leave.  Why was I making myself miserable trying to clean 2,000 square feet, keep a nice front yard, and pressure wash the back deck, since Savannah rarely moved from her spot on the couch, and Martin was perfectly comfortable at his desk.  Every evening.  And on it went.  I believe I may have even put up the tree by myself last year, for the third year in a row.  Dragging myself up the ladder to the attic to pull down those red and green, heavy bins, building the artificial tree, limb by limb, and carefully unpacking every decoration we have collected over the years to put them on the tree.  And for whom?  Did anybody really care?  I had never done this before in my life until Savannah was born.  This isn’t really who I am.  Going back 12 years ago,  I was lying on my couch at the house on Esher court with my then 8 month old daughter.   I was single and not really in the best of sprits, when my mom barged in with the fake tree, carrying on as she put it together.  “You have to get up and get with it, girl. you have a child to think about now. My grand baby is gonna have a tree. She deserves a tree. And a happy mother. . Forget about you and help me put this thing up!”  Turns out some of my favorite Christmas pictures ever are from that day, with Savannah in her little flannel footie pajamas, her little blond curls shaking with excitement as she picked up the ornaments mom brought over, one from every Christmas of my life.  Mom did this so I would have a collection when I grew up.  I guess it was official at that moment then, I was grown.  And this was yet ANOTHER one of those times when I witness the redeeming power of God. When I break, He puts me together much better than I was before.  Every time.
Last night I wake up at 4:00 am, in the most excruciating pain imaginable. I felt like I would to vomit from the sheer agony I feel inside of my body. This is the first time I have had a fibromyalgia flare-up since moving to the city.   That year of the diagnosis, I completely lost whatever  was left of me, and who knew who that was outside of motherhood?  Being a wife was brand new to me, and I sort of sucked at it. The suburbs were crushing my soul, so Savannah and I began our twice yearly trips to NYC, until I finally broke down and rented a studio apartment and made it permanent.  My family works well this way.  Martin sits at his desk at night.  Savannah sits at her spot on the sofa. And Chico has his.  We are all the same, just sharing a room like we did when space was abundant.  But we are much happier and more fulfilled.  We are growing in ways that I could have never imagined.  The decorations sit in a storage center near the railroad tracks in downtown Raleigh.  I wonder if there would have been a New York for me, if fibromyalgia  hadn’t happened but just Gina, stuck in the suburbs, bitching about all of the moms who raise chickens and talk about what they are making for dinner that evening .  Not that there is anything wrong with being a housewife and raising chickens. They are both very admirable.  It just wasn’t me.  I craved a bigger life.   So I wake up in a relapse of pain one night. At least I have this people-as-art city, that inspires me to grow and re-imagine my life in ways that I never could have in my little southern world. Again, God gets the glory. He moves in mysterious ways. He didn’t bring me through all of this to sit on it and not share, so now its time for me to get to work.

I have never grown up before. Ive never experienced the simple childhood joys and the beauty of music, the written word,  a broadway show, or walking the city streets for hours with my camera.    I never grew up before you. Because of you I am who I am. My daughter, my teacher.

 

Bad boys make bad husbands.

recovery and addiction

 

 

Lord have mercy.  The eyes.  They got me every single time.  80% of my terrible, awful, no good decisions were because of the eyes.  As long as they had a hint of mystery, who was behind them was of no consequence.  That’s all it took.  No words needed.  C’s baby blues comes to mind first.  The first night I met him, not a word was spoken, but he sat across the table from me in a room filled with smoke, and shot holes through me with his deep pools.  He lived in a trailer park in Garner, North Carolina.  It had brown and beige shag carpeting and plastic doors.  The trim was a dog turd brown, and the speckled gold and egg-shell blue floral wallpaper came factory installed onto the hollow doors and walls.  His construction job was obviously not enough to build a decent set of steps outside, because there was an old, rusty set of metal ones at the front door you could use, but you had to be careful, since they were not attached to the tin-can home.  Outside, he had an old, patina colored broken down car with no tires that was surrounded by wild grass and unkempt weeds.  Next to it sat his beat up small flat-bed silver truck.  It always tilted to one side for some reason, giving it an appearance of toppling over at any moment.  The master bedroom was only big enough to contain his King- size water bed. It had a red plastic covering and a dark brown headboard with mirrors.  The room had thick cream colored country curtains with lots of dust.  The sofa appeared to have once been beige, but his dog had a bad habit of jumping on it after he had been out playing in the red clay mud.  I googled him today and found his short bio on his Instagram account. It says “ Southern man. God first, then family. Love playing golf, dressing up, trying to stay fit, and eat healthy. Let’s get it! “ Turns out he also owns all of the land where the trailers sat, and even has his own subdivisions.  While I am glad that he appears to have cleaned his life up, this is hardly a description that would catch my attention today. In fact, I would run the other way. And its not the God part, or the Southern part, but what tends to happen to a person when you combine the two. And to think this was the guy who dumped Me, and led me to cleaning up my act, since he said that I drank too much.

The next set of blues came attached to the father of my child. He looked like the guy from the Marlboro billboard ads we would pass on the way to the beach when we were kids, lying in the back of the brown-paneled station wagon.  His skin looked like a fine, weathered leather from being out in the sun too long and for too many years.  His eyes were a piercing bright blue with a fine map of wrinkles that gave him an appearance of holding onto a mysterious thought or some deep observation that only he knew.  The gazes he gave me from across the classroom absolutely melted me down to my very core. And gazed he did, and often.  He always had just the right words to say, the best ones being “will you marry me”? and “I will take care of you. ” Those words, combined with those eyes, slid down my spine like warm maple syrup on a hot buttered biscuit.  He was a 6’4” drink of water, with tattoos that told the stories of his life.  An old life, he said. He was a bad boy gone good.  His past was a contrast to who he said he was today; a homeowner and a soon-to-be graduate of The school of Law.  The stories on his arms failed to mention the most important parts of his past, the details he neglected to tell me. We had been dating for a little over six months when he said the magic words.  I was his and an elopement sealed the deal.  It was only about a year into our marriage when a sheriff knocked on our door very late one night.  In his hand he held a piece of paper with a mugshot.  I told them they had the wrong house, since the man pictured had very long hair, a beard, and a warrant out for his arrest for failure to pay child support. My husband didn’t have a child , and he certainly didn’t look like the man in the photo.  Well, I slept alone that night as he was carted off for an evening in jail.  I had done some crazy things in my life, but most of them were laughable offenses.  And none ever involved the police.  Only the people on the news who talked with those strange southern accents had cops at their doors.  And we had a word for them.  White. Trash. Oh crap!  What had I become?  While this guy would have loved to have seen me barefoot and pregnant, it was only the latter one he succeeded at.  I put on my best shoes and walked the hell out of there and did not even give it a backwards glance.  My current husband, bless his heart, had to go through a complete screening, including a background check, before I would even consider looking long and deep into his kind, gentle eyes.  Today, thanks to google, facebook, Match.com and tinder, I am privy to a full resume of what has been before I will skim the surface of the longing that lies on the surface,in those mysterious windows to the soul. Age breeds practicality, and I just ain’t got no time for that kind of drama anymore.

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Backpacks and Boundaries

When I was a child, my dad made me a huge backpack,  put himself in it,  and placed it on my shoulders.   I carried this backpack for many, many years, not having clue that it was really there,  much less how to remove it.   I felt the weight of it almost always, and tried every way I could to forget it was there, but it remained.  I had a woman come along once with a fancy office off of Saint Mary’s street.   I would see her on Thursdays at 2:00.   The first thing I did was find my spot on her purple chenille couch, grab a soft batik pillow, place it in my lap, then kick off my shoes.  She taught me about something called boundaries in that wind chime and plant-filled office, and how that was the key to removing the giant backpack.  Boundaries are tricky little bastards, and could easily be used against you by the wrong person.  This usually comes in the form of the receiver of the boundary trying to make you think you are crazy.  It is a very effective technique until one learns how to really become comfortable in ones own skin.  This can take years and a fortune in offices just like hers.

For example, My dad loved to walk around in his black underwear and socks.  I asked him over and over to please not do this, but his response was always the same; “Gina, you are crazy.  Stop editing me.”  I would take my shrink all of the crazy letters my dad would send me and email me, and she would dissect them, piece by piece, emotion by emotion, and exclaim, “see this sentence? See what he did there? He is manipulating you and playing the victim.” It was easy for her to explain what was happening, since she was like a bird flying over a city, that has perspective over all of it, versus  me that is stuck right in the middle of the traffic jam.  Emotional traffic jams can be very difficult to come out of, and they can require a lot of help.  The first thoughts of someone not versed in getting out of one is to absolutely freak out, to catastrophize.  This creates a lot of unnecessary drama, since one is convinced that the world is coming to an end, and panic ensues. I would flail around like a lunatic, going from bottle to food, to money, using anything I could get my hands on to somehow block what was happening.  My husband refers to this as acting out of your dinosaur brain.   Anyway, this therapist taught me so much about how to view the world from a rational perspective, and adjusting my emotions accordingly.   Not many people in my life could really understand this, since on the outside, my dad was a charismatic doctor of education and had a grand following.  No one really saw how I was, from a very young age, treated like his girlfriend, or his confidant.  It was my shoulder he cried on when he was going to leave my mom, and my bed he climbed in when he needed comfort.  Don’t get me wrong, he never sexually abused me, but it was, according to my shrink, a trickier version, called covert abuse.  See, I thought that if it wasn’t something physical, then it didn’t exist.   Dad was the master of the tricky little mind game.  I remember the very first time I removed the burden of the backpack.  I was living an adorable 2 bedroom cottage in downtown Raleigh near the Meredith College campus, where I was an art student.   It was a safe place that I had created for myself in early sobriety.  He was paying the rent and footing the bill for college.  But there was always a price, and usually a very high one.  He announced one day that he would be arriving from Dallas, and would be staying in my extra room. I went into sheer dinosaur brain mode.  The feelings of being trapped rushed back to me, as well as the nightmares of him and his black underwear.  I worked up the nerve, with a lot of help, to tell him that he could not stay with me, but that I loved him. Next thing I knew, he was standing out on the front porch with his suitcase, announcing that he had called a cab, and that I would NEVER see him AGAIN.  Finally realizing that in the tennis match of life, I don’t have to both hit the ball and receive it, I said goodbye to him, instead of engaging in his little codependent jig. This was so very liberating . I could see fireworks going off in my mind. The fear was also confounding, and threatened to drown me. Oh no! Would he Really vanish forever? The next thing I did was sell the bed in the extra room. And vowed to never let anyone put anything in my backpack again.

Backpacks and Boundaries

survival, alcoholism, mental illness, boundaries, life-redesign, mid-life awakening.

 

When I was a child, my dad made me a huge backpack, put himself in it, and placed it on my shoulders.   I carried this backpack for many, many years, not having clue that it was really there, much less how to remove it.   I felt the weight of it almost always, and tried every way I could to forget it was there, but it remained.   I had a woman come along once with a fancy office off of Saint Mary’s street.  I would see her on Thursdays at 2:00. The first thing I did was find my spot on her purple chenille couch, grab a soft batik pillow and place it in my lap, then kick off my shoes.  She taught me about something called boundaries in that wind chime and plant-filled office, and how that was the key to removing the giant backpack.  Boundaries are tricky little bastards, and could easily be used against you by the wrong person.  This usually comes in the form of the receiver of the boundary trying to make you think you are crazy.  It is a very effective technique until one learns how to really become comfortable in ones own skin.  This can take years and a fortune in offices just like hers.

For example, My dad loved to walk around in his black underwear and socks.  I asked him over and over to please not do this, but his response was always the same “Gina, you are crazy. Stop editing me.”  I would take my shrink all of the crazy letters my dad would send me and email me, and she would dissect them, piece by piece, emotion by emotion, and exclaim, “see this sentence? See what he did there? He is manipulating you and playing the victim.”  It was easy for her to explain what was happening, since she was like a bird flying over a city, that has perspective over all of it, verses me that is stuck right in the middle of the traffic jam.   Emotional traffic jams can be very difficult to come out of, and they can require a lot of help.  The first thoughts of someone not versed in getting out of one is to absolutely freak out, to catastrophize.  This creates a lot of unnecessary drama, since one is convinced that the world is coming to an end, and panic ensues.  I would flail around like a lunatic, going from bottle to food, to money, using anything I could get my hands on to somehow block what was happening.  My husband refers to this as acting out of your dinosaur brain.  Anyway, this therapist taught me so much about how to view the world from a rational perspective, and adjusting my emotions accordingly.  Not many people in my life could really understand this, since on the outside, my dad was a charismatic doctor of education and had a grand following.  No one really saw how I was, from a very young age, treated like his girlfriend, or his confidant.  It was my shoulder he cried on when he was going to leave my mom, and my bed he climbed in when he needed comfort.  Don’t get me wrong, he never sexually abused me, but it was, according to my shrink, a trickier version of abuse, called covert abuse.  See, I thought that if it wasn’t something physical, then it didn’t exist.  Dad was the master of the tricky little mind game.  I remember the very first time I removed the burden of the backpack.  I was living an adorable 2 bedroom cottage in downtown Raleigh near the Meredith College campus, where I was an art student.  It was a safe place that I had created for myself in early sobriety.  He was paying the rent and footing the bill for college.  But there was always a price, and usually a very high one.  He announced one day that he would be arriving from Dallas, and would be staying in my extra room.  I went into sheer dinosaur brain mode. The feelings of being trapped rushed back to me, as well as the nightmares of him and his black underwear.  I worked up the nerve, with a lot of help, to tell him that he could not stay with me, but that I loved him. Next thing I knew, he was standing out on the front porch with his suitcase, announcing that he had called a cab, and that I would NEVER see him AGAIN.  Finally realizing that in the tennis match of life, I don’t have to both hit the ball and receive it, I said goodbye to him, instead of engaging in his little codependent jig.  This was so very liberating .  I could see fireworks going off in my mind. The fear was also confounding, and threatened to drown me.  Oh no!  Would he Really vanish forever?  The next thing I did was sell the bed in the extra room.  And vowed to never let anyone put anything in my backpack again.

On the 1979 Candy-apple red Volkswagen Super beetle with the black rag top.

red vw

My very first car was a candy-apple red Volkswagen Super- beetle with a black rag top.  I got it for my 16th birthday.  I came home one evening and walked in the back door of our split-level home in our suburban neighborhood into our brown paneled walled living room to find a gift box.   Inside was one of those hideous little troll-dolls with bright yellow, spiky hair holding a set of car keys.   My step -dad immediately took me outside into the cold, dark evening of my November birthday to teach me how to drive the stick-shift.
He was having one of his finer moments, since he was a son-of-a-bitch alcoholic who redeemed himself with his money.  His dad owned an oil company, and money kept coming his way, which he would quickly blow on boats, cruises, and starting businesses. My brother adored him, since he gave us free reign of the boat after school to take to the nearby Falls lake to water-ski with our friends.   He just had no clue how to deal with me and my teenage rebellion, and we got along best when we were sharing the half gallon of vodka that usually adorned the kitchen counter.   He didn’t know that I was drinking along with him, and every drink I stole out of his vodka bottle was immediately replaced with water.   It was a terrible trick that was eventually discovered when he realized that his vodka no longer produced its promised sweet relief after a long day of the 8 to 5 life.

It was an unfortunate time to learn a stick-shift,  since I had been out drinking all day.  He probably didn’t notice the smell on me since he had been doing the same exact thing. Day-drinking was my escape, since going to school was such a downer for me.   The teachers treated you like you were an idiot simply because you showed up for class sporadically, and with no homework, and probably reeking of pot.   And then there were those little pieces of “paper” me and Renee Elliot would pass around in Mrs. Siano’s english class.   It never occurred to us that adults knew what LSD was, too.   We always thought we were so much smarter.  Back then , there was no-one waiting for you when you got home, so we had no homework police or adult supervision EVER.  A guy named Scott was our favorite escape from the sweaty , non-air conditioned, incredibly cliquish, hormone-soaked halls of Broughton High school.  His place worked best since it was walking distance from the campus.   He rented a dingy little room on Hillsborough street. This must have been a little while after they cleaned it up a bit.  In elementary school, the ultimate insult to hit your enemy with was, “ Your mama works on Hillsborough Street”. It was the time when porno movies and titty bars lit up the small street near the NC State campus.  It didn’t stop us from going to this magical place of college life, bars, and grungy musicians.  Scott looked a little like Kevin Bacon, the cute new actor from Footloose,   but with bad acne, and must have been older than us, since he always had liquor on hand, and actually had HIS OWN PLACE.   It  was a little room with a mini-fridge and a bathroom down the hall.  He had a bit of a mean streak, and always seemed really grumpy and treated us like we were pains in the asses.  Looking back, the poor guy did get a little taken advantage of with us girls crashing and drinking all of his booze.  He may have expected a little SOMETHING in return, but young girls can get away with anything. I recently came across his obituary on Facebook.  He was only 52,and still looked very angry.  I guess some of us never escaped that life.
The Volkswagen was my treasure, even though it broke down a lot.  I even found some of the old beetle mats in an junk yard my grandpa owned out in the country.  They were the rubber ones with the cute little lady bug with the big smile.  I drove my VW out there once on a relentlessly hot, humid North Carolina summer day.  I cleaned them up to add the finishing touches to my precious little beetle.  The car had many little quirky traits, like the black top that to be folded down manually, and was a two person job.  To switch lanes or to look behind me, I had to stand up while driving so I could see over the top when it was down.  In the winter, my gloved hands would freeze to the steering wheel from the air blowing in from the front of the car.  When it wouldn’t start, I had to push it and pop the clutch until it cranked.  This made it a fantastic sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night car.  The brakes had to be pumped several times before the car would fully stop.  Susanne must have forgotten this detail when she rammed into the back another car in front of us.  We were leaving Wrightsville Beach after a full day of tequila drinking.  We still had our oiled, sandy skin, with our wet beach towels as a barrier between us and the vinyl seats.  She was driving because I had eaten the worm. Everyone knew that the worm on the bottom of the bottle of tequila had the most alcohol ,and could even make you see things, which was a fun goal. Anyway,our parents told us to get somewhere safe while they made the 3 hour trip to pick us up in the middle of the night. We were very fortunate that the guys we hit were young and cute and had an apartment nearby, and off we went, to “safety”, and to engage in whatever legal and illegal goodies they had at their place.  The apartment was like any college boy’s apartment at the time, with framed, mirrored advertisements of Miller Light beer, Budweiser,  or if they were really exotic,  Guinness.  The carpet was dirty brown, and there were empty beer cans and ash trays all over the room. A Mexican blanket hung haphazardly from the wall above the sofa, probably picked up from a Spring break trip somewhere where girls ran around in bikinis screaming “woohoooo!!!!”, funneling beer, vomiting in bushes, and waking up in strange rooms.  There were three guys, and one was older, and kept lording his authority over us.  We ignored him and drank his alcohol anyway.   I don’t remember when my parents arrived, but any punishment I may have incurred, besides the lecture from the front seat on the way home, was diverted by the fact that my dad was taking my brother and I to England the following morning.  My hangover was cured with the discovery of WINE IN A BOX.  Our quaint little host home in Aberdeen, Scotland had one in the fridge.  That, I thought, was the best invention EVER, because no one could tell how much you drank out of the big cardboard box.
The last I heard, my precious VW had been towed to uncle Whirly’s place on a farm outside of Raleigh.  He owned 3 chimpanzees,  who escaped one day and managed to destroy the beautiful black top.  At least that was the story they told.  The powers that be decided that there was no more money to throw at my precious automobile, and I never saw it again.  Not even to say goodbye.  That was the end of an era.  My little red Super-Beetle convertible black-top with the lady bug mats.

On dropping everything and moving to New York City.

survival, hope, life redesign

The plane jostles me awake as it begins its descent in to Raleigh Durham airport.  I reach up to twist the little round knob on the ceiling that is spewing out ice cold air into my eyes before glancing out the window to see the familiar view below of the little houses that look like the ones on a monopoly board, spreading out like a cancer.   Subdivisions. Trees.  Ugh.  I feel tired.  I quickly grab the last sip of my flat diet coke before tossing the empty plastic cup into the flight attendants trash bag. I’m back to the ‘burbs.
At the house, I walk into the vast foyer.  It looms large over me, with its bright yellow walls and its hollow echo.  My art graces every wall and seems to yell out to me in all of its black and white glory.  The place smells clean.  Not like a house where we raised 2 cats, a dog, 2 rats, and way too many replaced and look-alike hermit crabs and beta fish to count.  The largeness of it feels empty, like a tomb.  My shoulders feel so heavy as I walk up the steps to my old bedroom.   I have to resist the urge to crawl.  The brightness of the sun meets me the moment I walk into the room.  The bathroom is larger than I remember, and the bathtub alone is the size of my bathroom in my east village apartment .  I brace my shoulders as I look in the mirror.  The face staring back at me appears older here than it did when I left the city.  Maybe its all of the glorious light and the gigantic mirror.  Its a lot different than the little mirror that graces the wall
of my dingy little New York City apartment bathroom . I like the way I look there better, I think, as I dim the lights and walk out, swearing to never own a full-length mirror again.
After my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia 5 years ago, my life came crashing to a halt.  My entire identity had been shaken.  Since giving birth to my daughter, and surviving an abusive marriage, I had rebuilt my life as a sober woman, built a photography studio with my very own name on it, new wife, homeowner, and kept my demons at bay with daily trips to Spin class at my fancy local gym.  Like a good southerner, my shell looked fine on the outside, but on the inside, maybe not so much.  I was still trying to fit my highly irregular peg self into the smooth, round hole of Southern Culture in which I had been raised.  I don’t remember exactly when the debilitating fatigue hit, or if it was the excruciating pain that came first.  But I was in Hell. I cried a lot.  Fibromyalgia is a Mofo. And what did I do to deserve such a strange and obscure illness? My husband barely recognized me, as I spent entire weekends in bed with my friends Ben and Jerry. You are what you eat, they say, so my body was starting to look like Phish Food. My business was gone. My large home was a hurricane of dirty laundry and items purchased that seemed like a good idea at the time. The life I had built for myself now just kind of came down around me.
I refused to live like this. What was going on, what was my body trying to tell me?  I had to address this problem from a spiritual, emotional, and physical angle.  But Damn!  I have already overcome, or rather survived, a childhood riddled with abuse and abandonment, Bulimia, alcoholism, and drug addiction.  That’s enough! So far, both a medical doctor, a holistic doctor, and a chiropractor have offered me relief of various kinds.  Perhaps the best lessons have come from working with my psychiatrist.  Through our many conversations, I have learned what it means to go through middle age, to adjust to a different body with different needs, and how to be kind and gentle with myself in the process.  Our weekly talks led me, for whatever reason, to New York City. Or maybe I just needed an excuse.  My trips began with renting Airbnb apartments in various neighborhoods throughout the city.  What started as a vacation turned into
an extraordinary love affair that left me begging for more.  I could no longer tolerate my southern hometown.  It became my prison, with my big home, my two big cars, and conversations with others that never really left the realm of what was being cooked for dinner, or what our kids were up to.  Every day as I walked out of my house, I would see the vast emptiness of the landscape devoid of people, or if they were around, they all looked the same, all adorned in their Jack Rogers sandals and pastel tunics.  Conformity seems Key in the suburbs.  I think I prefer to call what I was going through Divine Discontentment, since when one door opens for me, usually a much better one opens.
I begin in my closet. Its more like an extra room, except that it slopes with the roof , so you bang your head as you walk in.  That’s where I got the huge scratch on my glasses, so I think of the ceiling every time I look through that scratch. Before I left at Christmas, I threw everything in it that is of any value to me into it.  My dad’s t-shirt says “Jesus loves you, but the rest of us thinks you are an asshole”.  It has a little picture of Calvin and Hobbs on it.  I pick it up and am immediately embraced by the musky sweet smell of the cologne he wore.  If the smell is still there after 6 years, it must have really been strong before.  My dad, the stud.  I kept all of his books. Everything from the Bible, to Fidel Castro, Oscar Wilde, and even Kim Litrell’s book on better Sex.  My shoulders tighten a little more.  Behind the books, I see every single figure drawing I did in my 4 years of Art school.  One of the little old lady hunched over her chair, toes curling up like a vine around an old post.  She had fallen asleep that day on the pedestal.  I see the one of the 20 something hippy chic with the tampon string in full view.  I am glad I decided to
capture that little detail now.  I spent way too many days in the art studios from California to St. Louis.  I go to move them, and the black charcoal comes off onto the dry skin of my fingers.  It smells like old newspaper and youth.  As I wash it off, I glance over to see the green box of my daughter’s baby clothing.  The onsie with the sweet-tart on the front that really says Sweetheart.  She was wearing that the day I loaded her and Charlie, the Cocker Spaniel, into the car to flee her biological dad.  We flew down I-40, the temperature above me on the little clock saying 110 degrees.  She was silent , Charlie was panting, and I could hear my heart coming out of my chest as I adjusted my legs from the leather seats that they were sticking to.  I felt like I would die as I called my mother to tell her to make a bed for us.

As I walk out of the closet to turn off the light, I take one more glance at my wedding dress and my extensive running shoe collection from my days of being a personal trainer in college.  I have to relive 28 years of life in three days.  Part of me wants to light a match to everything, but I decide to instead just get rid of it all.  Coming to my senses, I settle for going to the post office to ship the truly important things up to the apartment, knowing they will never fit in my little corner of Manhattan.  I feel traumatized as I succumb to my bed.  I must have drifted off to sleep, because when I wake up, it is dark out, and my bed in situated in a sea of stuff that accumulates in a lifetime.  I pry myself out of the darkness, remembering why I chose this to take this amazing journey, ( and what an adventure it was!) and get to work.  Soon I will embark on the second half of the life I decided to design this time.  I’ll sleep when I get home, I tell myself.  My shoulders are now all the way up to my ears, and the pain radiates.  The pilot announces our descent into JFK, I am in complete and total awe of the shimmering little island that exists in the middle of the sea.  Every light that dances in the distance represents fresh opportunities, vast arrays of stories from lands that I could only dream about, and experiences I have never fathomed.  Here, my Southern Twang is just another one of the many accents that add to the music of this incredible city.  I was Charlie-In-The-Box, and I had finally arrived at The Island Of Lost Toys.  (If you need that explained, google Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi” his disciples asked him, “why was the man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “Neither”, Jesus answered. “This happened so that the power of God could be seen in him.”
John 9:1-3.